process creation

Ophelia; Defining Madness


The task

Based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we were asked to create a project that would combine both our technical and theoretical knowledge from the first semester. The starting point was broad enough to include a huge scope of options including set design and (short) film production among others.


From a thorough investigation of the text with detailed character analysis, the project turned to focus on Ophelia and more specifically her decent into madness. The physiological traits associated with this implied insanity offered a more solid concept to work from and lead to the creation of three design plans.



The first concept was focused around a twisted sense of mundane and how this could be visualised through a carefully orchestrated set with ‘obvious’ imperfections.

Photographs with forced smiles, windows with painted sunshine, the woman’s assumed place in the home. Struggles with perfection and forced happiness that would highlight Ophelia’s difficulties within her home life and mirror the reality for many modern woman unhappily situated as house wives. Research for this came mainly from private blogs belonging to American Military wives found through support forums for those in need of comfort.


Flipping the previously ‘subtle twist’ concept, the second idea focused purely on the visible traits of madness. Taking guide from the UK’s legal definition of insanity (typically used for defining criminal actions) a series of micro films were designed reflecting these characteristics.

The concept develops further to suggest how this footage could be projected not directly onto a surface, but rather onto fragmented mirror shards which would reflect small pieces of each video randomly onto a wall or performance space. A monologue was edited from the original text to be heard overhead.


03/ shrek model

When concept creating, we are encouraged to design a ‘shrek model’ where limitations are removed and ideas can come to light that would normally not be possible. For this task, a design was created for an interactive installation featuring a large walkway with a ceiling of mirrored glass. Projections beaming from above this layer of mirrors would create holographic figures who would act out various pieces of Ophelia’s final monologue. The entire piece was to be shot from above, as if mirroring those below.

The experience was suggested to simulate the feel of a ghost train, with holographic figures guiding viewers through before disappearing and reemerging. Adding lights in the walkway would highlight the viewer’s own reflections forming an uncomfortable but self-aware experience.

the concept

The final design is based off the second suggestion, created as an inversion of the initial idea. Staying with the idea of visualising traits of madness that would be recognisable to an audience, nine micro films were finalised to be recorded. The composition of these features close ups, wide angle and full body shots. All to be edited to high contrast black and white in the style of the photo series used here.

The ‘mirror shard’ section of this project took a significant amount of experimentation. A variety of surfaces were trialled, from physical smashed mirrors to metallic foil, scrap kitchenware and digitally formed segments in Cue Lab. It was decided the best effect came from mirror featuring a slight curve, so reflective vinyl was the final solution.



The media for this project featured several surrealist portrait videos of the central character Ophelia (portrayed by Els) which were filmed in a temporary set-up ‘studio’. With limited access to photographic equipment and locations to film, we had to get creative finding solutions for lighting and background.

Our saving equipment here was a large reflector which allowed us to redirect the natural light within the room. Each video was around 45 seconds with direction created and developed as needed following a detailed prepared shot list.


For the final presentation, a physical build was required to project onto. This panel would refract the light and segment the videos giving the final ‘broken’ effect. To do this, a large mirror was smashed (with a fine point hammer) and attached to a flat piece of chipboard after it had been painted black.

Originally, legs were added to control the angle though for the presentation they were removed so adjustments could be made manually and more drastically. The set up is shown blow with an HDMI beamer connection, laptop and projection mirror screen.


FINAL Projection

Above is the finished premier file containing multiple videos as part of a moving ‘collage’. Each image varies in length and placement and were designed to correspond with the mirror pieces. Projected onto the panel, the videos are split up into smaller fragments creating the final distorted effect.


Designing, formulating and creating a project within an allocated period of time was a huge personal success for this project. In terms of changes, the main area I would be interested to develop would be the image projections and how less mirror shards would effect the overall shape of the videos (i.e. removing square edges).